It’s Christmas, and unknown to many except a particularly hardcore set of mecha fans, it is a time for self-inflicted heartbreak. /m/ has a tradition of watching Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket every Christmas season and it has me thinking of other terrible Christmas episodes. By terrible, I mean heartbreakingly sad.
Now why would anyone want to celebrate Christmas this way? Frankly, I don’t really know. I only think that War in the Pocket is one of the best damn shows I have ever seen, and that Christmas is probably the best time to watch it, given that the climax of the show transpires during the season. Also, it made me think of a similarly awful Christmas episode, one from my most favorite of all shows: Super Dimension Fortress Macross episode 35.
Merry Christmas; today we remember love for these two heartbreaking moments in anime. What is apparent is that having sad events transpire during a supposedly happy time of the year — for many of us (especially children and the young at heart) it’s the happiest time of the year — it makes the sad stuff even sadder. Done well, this becomes poignant and meaningful. To me, it’s just a kind of awfulness that I can’t tear myself away from.
Merry Christmas, Miclones (Episode 35: “Romanesque”)
The episode starts with some heavy handed ominousness: a snake attacks a bird’s nest located on a crashed Zentraedi ship. The mother bird puts up a desperate effort to ward the snake away. It is the jungle, and right now it’s the temporary home Kamjin Kravshera, an altogether different kind of snake, is leaving behind.Kamjin vows to make the miclones pay for giving them culture, then we see the snake coil contentedly on the bird’s nest; blue feathers scattered around it.
The whole thing is a metaphor about Humans nesting with Zentreadi on the ruined Earth, or perhaps the ‘cultured’ Zentraedi integrating with humans on the devastated Earth. There are snakes like Kamjin who still pose a legitimate threat.
It’s Christmas season in the city (December 23), and it’s snowing. I see this heartbreaking sequence: the three Zentraedi former spies (Warera, Loli, and Conda… ‘WareRoriKon’ — literally, “we are lolicons”), totally luckless, trying to hustle by (failing at) selling toys. They had been fired from the cleaning company for getting the clothes in their care signed by Minmay. The pioneers of Zentraedi integration are failing miserably at life. Why? Maybe because more than anything else, and at the expense of most other things, they are Minmay otaku.
And then we find Minmay alone in a park, sitting on a swing having been left by Kaifun and no longer wanting to sing. She’s washed up, and much too soon. But then again, everybody alive has already heard her songs. There is no one else to sing to, except maybe for her most die-hard fans. But she didn’t even want to see them, and the last we see of our Zentraedi spies is their failure to catch up with Minmay, who was the catalyst for their transformation.
Transformation into what? From mediocre officers to fail otaku. No wonder Kamjin is so pissed! Is this the culmination of Minmay’s contribution? Is this the true face of her legacy? It gets worse. She shows up at Hikaru’s doorstep and throws herself at him, telling him how she lost herself and how she’s quit singing, then begging him to let her stay for the night.
This is terrible enough, but Misa catches this part of the conversation, and Hikaru’s acquiescance. She runs through the snowed out streets, and was even mistaken for a drunk. But soon enough she becomes a drunken mess herself, mangling Minmay’s Sunset Beach at the bar. Claudia finds her, thinking of drinking Roy’s share of bourbon.
The next day Kamjin attacks Onoji City’s industrial sector to steal a reaction engine. Cruelly he leaves a bomb in a Santa Claus display, blowing up parts of the city. Hikaru, Max, and Millia had to abort pursuit to assist civilians in the fire. Christmas for the residents of Onoji city really sucked. And yet, inside a Catholic church, the people are singing Silent Night, Holy Night.
Minmay can hear them, and I imagine her praying for Hikaru’s safety, the same Hikaru who’s berating his commanding officer for not alerting him about the attack. You broke her heart, that’s why! She only told him that he shouldn’t leave the door to his place open. It’s not safe… T_T It’s Christmas Eve, and Minmay made Hikaru a great dinner, complete with Christmas cake. She also asked him to quit the army, and finally, finally they kissed.
By all means I should be happy. This is my ship, the boat I sailed all my life, and yet I feel so awful! Such a terribly sad Christmas episode, and on Christmas Day itself the whole thing ends. T_T
Bernie Shows a Bit of Character (Episode 05: “Say it isn’t so, Bernie”)
We first see the last moments of the MS-18E Kämpfer at the hands of the RX-78NT-1 Gundam “Alex”, reminding us of the failure of the Cyclops Team’s mission. The point is hammered home by the subsequent scene wherein the ruthless Col. Killing murdered fellow Zeon officers to seize control of a nuclear warhead in Granada base.
Zeon knows about the Gundam prototype, and is prepared to do anything to destroy it. The “Alex” is a prototype built specifically for a Newtype pilot, to take advantage of one Amuro Ray. Zeon, even after reading the writing on the wall, is now fighting with both pride and spite. The ban on nuclear weapons now seems so flimsy in the face of their lack of scruples in the face of defeat.
Christina Mackenzie handles the press inquiring about the battle. She doesn’t divulge the existence of the Gundam, despite the reporter browbeating her with statistics: 246 people dead, 572 people wounded just days before Christmas. She defends her actions by saying that if they didn’t fight, more people would’ve gotten killed. “It couldn’t be helped.” The reporter retorts that it isn’t the point. “Nobody should get killed because ‘it couldn’t be helped.'”
Al gets some fast food, but his run through the city shows him images of death and destruction. He is visibly shaken as he takes lunch to Bernie, who now is the sole survivor of the Cyclops team. As he waits for Al near Steiner Hardie’s rude grave, he thinks of his conversation with the Zeon asset in the colony, who warns him of the Zeon fleet who will nuke the colony if the Gundam isn’t destroyed by Christmas.
He has an unpleasant lunch with Al, to whom he warns about the nuke, and that he’s leaving the colony that day. Al is vehement, calling Bernie a coward. Al has utmost faith in Bernie being able to destroy the Gundam. After all, he told Al that he needed only one more enemy kill to become an ace. If they fix the Zaku, Al believes Bernie can take on the Gundam and win.
Bernie levels the truth like a weapon:
Al, the truth is I’ve never even shot down one mobile suit! …I’m a rookie, Al. A fifth wheel. Just over here for the ride.
Steiner Hardie suspected that there was something foul going on when Col. Killing assigned Bernie to the Cyclops team, despite the importance of the mission they were being told to do. Bernie jokingly told Al that he was just short of an ace, but the truth is that Zeon had been losing so badly that the flower of their armed forces are already killed, and that the ones shoring up the remnants are rookies like Bernie.
Bernie musters up some tenderness and implores Al to leave the colony and live. He will do the same.
Despite the recent violence and devastation, there are parts of the city wherein the Christmas season is in full swing; though Bernie doesn’t seem to get into the commercial spirit of things. Rather, he is filled with the horror that all these people are going to die.
The distraught Al walks into Christina on his way home. She asks her a hypothetical: what would she do if she found out that the colony was going to get attacked by a fleet? Would she run or fight?
I think I’d fight. No I don’t think I would [run away]… Of course I’d be scared. But I can handle being scared. What I can’t handle was being left alone… If I lost my mom and dad and you and my friends… If everyone who’s special to me were killed and only I lived. I couldn’t live with myself if I ran away and left them all to die. [Only a coward runs away] No, that’s not what I mean. If I fight, it’s for my own sake. I’d fight because I’d be scared of being left alone. But that’s what I’d do. Another person may want to run. Everyone has to decide for themselves which choice to make.
If you fight people may die, If you don’t fight, people may still die. There is no “right or “wrong” choice to make. All you can try is to do what you think is right. I think I answered you more than I should have, sorry.
What a jarringly realist perspective… and what a remarkable thing to say to the boy! I think that in the second paragraph she was talking more to herself than to Al, hence her apology. But now these two (indirect) authority figures in his life gave contrasting perspectives on the crisis.
A little later he runs into his school friends, who are having the time of their lives picking up ammunition shells from the debris of their school (I think the Kämpfer’s shotgun shell is inaccurately scaled though). As if he thought these friends of his are doomed by nuclear blast while they carried on this way, Al couldn’t fight back the tears even as he tried to laugh his way out of them.
But he did find resolve, and headed straight to the police station to warn the colony of the nuclear attack; despite his involvement as an accomplice to the Cyclops Team’s activities (he located the Gundam for them), which Bernie told him would lead to his execution. Unfortunately, back when he was an accomplice, he earned the affinity (if not trust) of the Cyclops Team by shaking off police investigation for them by giving the police a false lead. Now they won’t listen to him because he’s now the ‘boy who cried wolf.’
Bernie ended up finding his courage. On the cusp of leaving the colony for some resort destination. Maybe due to not having the heart to leave Al behind, and in wanting to honor the memory of the fallen members of the Cyclops Team — but he did his part by warning him. Something tells me he was thinking of Chris. I wouldn’t go as far to say he’s in love with her, as charming as she is, but some chivalry is in play — since he did choose to fight in the spirit of doing ‘the right thing.’
And it felt good didn’t it Bernie? To hear Al apologize and ask respectfully this time. You just start believing you can actually do it.
I realize that this episode isn’t as sad unless I think of what happens in the next, similar to how it is with SDF Macross where I know Minmay loses Hikaru to Misa with finality in the next ep, Bernie meets his end in War in the Pocket 06. It’s a peculiar feeling — a sadness that can only be appreciated in hindsight, and only relished through rewatching.
Is it overkill that these tragedies are set in Christmas? Perhaps, but I for one particularly enjoy them for choosing this holiday to stage their tragic resolutions — which are tragic only in context too. After all, Misa and Hikaru together is a joyful event for most Macross fans, and one can argue that Al gets to grow up a lot after the whole experience with Bernie and his death.
Well, one can certainly argue that, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to convince anyone that it averts the sad end. But these two episodes, when viewed in retrospect, are sterling examples of how somberness is powerful and are timely set-ups for the dramatic resolutions.
Al and Bernie are two of my good old boys from Gundam [->]
If you love War in the Pocket, then you must read about the next episode. This post is one of my favorites ever published in an anime blog (Iknight 2008/01/18)
Christmas is hell, because war is hell (otou-san 2009/12/24)
Haven’t seen any Gundam at all? Don’t know where to start? WHY ARE YOU READING THIS POST!? But by all means Find your Gateway Gundam!